Monday, 30 December 2019
A Middle Earth Traveller: sketches from Bag End to Mordor. John Howe. HarperCollins, 2018. 192 pages, large format.
John Howe has become the best artist to illustrate Tolkien. Not only scense and characters from the major works published in Tolkien's lifetime and posthumously, but he has extended imaginatively into subjects that were only hinted-at in the extensive Legendarium.
Howe has been illustrating covers for, I think, more than 25 years - and these were always good; but over the decades Howe as become a better artist and has gone ever more deeply into Tolkiens world; assisted by being one of the two artists (the other was Alan Lee) to work on the design of the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies.
I already have several earlier books including Howe's Tolkien work, but Middle Earth Traveller reaches a new level of quality, interest and sheer generosity. It includes colour paintings finished drawings, and hundreds of pencil sketches; of landscape, people and artefacts.
I say Howe is the best artist to illustrate Tolkien because he is the best at figure drawing, portraiture; and this comes from his very fluid and fluent line. I presume this has developed from the vast workload undertaken during the movie making process, when he was needed 24/7 to make multiple last minute changes to the set, costume, props etc.
In addition - from his own passionate engagement with Tolkien's world - Howe has made (it seems) many thousands of extra sketches extending beyond what was needed for the movies (and commissioned illustrations), and noting features of suitable landscapes.
What I get from this book (including the extensive explanatory texts) is a sense of genuine personal engagement and love of the subject matter; combined with accuracy and skill. The book is jam-packed with good stuff, and represents excellent value for money - whether as a present (which is how I got mine) or for yourself.